Ubuntu Linux Phone Debuts—for a Select Few

The "age of Aquaris" is now here as a long-awaited Linux mobile device becomes reality with the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition smartphone.

Ubuntu phone

The world's first Ubuntu Linux phone is now available, two years after the effort to bring Ubuntu to phones was first announced by Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux. The new Ubuntu phone is actually not new hardware; it's an Ubuntu Linux edition of the BQ Aquaris E4.5 device that is already in the market as an Android smartphone.

The BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition includes two micro-SIM slots, an 8-megapixel camera that is capable of full 1080p video, Dragontrail glass and 8GB of internal memory, which is expandable via the internal micro-SD slot. The phone, which is priced at 169.90 euros (about $192), isn't yet being sold in retail stores; instead it is being sold through a series of online flash sales. And for those in the United States interested in the phone, they are out of luck: The device is only for sale in Europe at this point.

"What's exciting about Ubuntu is that it's a very different experience on many fronts," Cristian Parrino, vice president of mobile at Canonical, said during a press conference announcing the new phone. "We're not coming out with yet another Android or IOS phone."

Parrino said that the promise of the Ubuntu Phone is that of a richer, faster, unfragmented experience. One of the ways that Ubuntu is delivering on that promise is via a technology interface innovation called scopes. A scope provides a way to organize and display content and applications to users.

As an example, Parrino said that the music scope on the Ubuntu phone aggregates music that may be present on a user's own device with music the user might have online in SoundCloud or a YouTube channel.

"Scopes allow users to make the phone experience revolve around the content and services that they use the most," Parrino said.

The idea of having Ubuntu Linux run on smartphones is one that has gone through several iterations in recent years. In 2012, Canonical started an effort called Ubuntu for Android that was set to enable Ubuntu Linux to run on Android phones. That effort never matured, and in 2013, Canonical announced the Ubuntu for Phones effort.

As part of Canonical's phone push, the company launched a crowdfunding effort in August of 2013 that was tasked with bringing in $32 million in 30 days to fund the Ubuntu Edge Linux superphone. The Ubuntu Edge effort ended up raising $12.8 million and did not move forward. Part of the early promise of the Ubuntu Edge was that it would enable users to plug the device into external peripherals to create a full desktop experience.

While the promise of the Ubuntu Edge is not being realized in the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, Parrino did say that it is still very much part of Canonical's future Ubuntu Phone vision.

"Convergence both in terms of a software platform that can operate on different form factors and also in terms of a device that can power a PC is very much part of our roadmap," Parrino said. "The first BQ device is a smartphone, but it's not an Ubuntu Edge convergence play."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.